A Columbia man jailed for contempt of court could find himself behind bars again after the Western District Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld the ruling from Circuit Judge Jodie Asel.
Seth Reynolds was jailed for 10 days in December for failing to abide by Asel’s order to remove an outbuilding, fence and satellite dish built in 2013 at Reynolds' home on Creasy Springs Road. Reynolds was denied a variance sought in 2015, after construction was complete, to the county's setback and easement regulations. When Reynolds did not comply with her May 2017 order to remove the structures, Asel ordered Reynolds jailed indefinitely until the structures were gone and she denied bond. The satellite dish has been removed.
In the case heard April 2 by the court of appeals, Reynolds challenged the contempt ruling, saying he had made efforts to have the building demolished but was unable to do so because of the cost and difficulty associated with demolition. The county argued he was financially capable of having the work completed, estimated to be about $30,000, and had just not put forth the effort.
The appeals court ordered Asel to set a bond while the appeal was pending. Judges Edward Ardini, Mark Pfeiffer and Gary Witt heard oral arguments during a special session at the University of Missouri Law School.
In an opinion handed down Tuesday, they sided with Asel’s contempt ruling, calling Reynolds challenge a “collateral attack” on her shed-removal order.
“Substantial evidence exists in the record to support the trial court’s finding that Reynolds possesses the present financial ability to comply with the injunction judgment and purge himself of contempt thereof, and such finding was not against the weight of the evidence,” Pfeiffer wrote in the unanimous opinion. “Reynolds’s final argument on appeal is an impermissible collateral attack on the injunction judgment and is barred by the doctrine of res judicata (a matter already decided that can not be pursued further).”
Assistant Boone County Attorney Ron Sweet said he was pleased with the ruling but would not comment further.
Reynolds attorney, Thomas Schneider, said his client can either seek a rehearing in the court of appeals or take the case to the Missouri Supreme Court or both, but neither will ultimately solve the problem of getting the building demolished.
“There is still the issue of the building being removed,” Schneider said. “He had two issues, one being inability to raise $30,000 and the other, his only bidder said they couldn't do it until spring. Well it’s spring now, so something is going to have to happen to bring the property into compliance with the judgment and going to the Supreme Court is not ultimately going to solve that.”
If Reynolds does not seek a transfer to the high court, the judgment handed down Tuesday will become final in 15 days. The court of appeals would then file a mandate and the case would be concluded.
Shortly after the mandate is filed, Reynolds would then be required to head back to jail if the building still stands.
“The trial court’s judgment require Seth to report at 8 p.m. every night, seven days a week to the Boone County Jail and stay until 6:30 a.m. each and every day until the court is satisfied that he has purged himself of the contempt,” Schneider said.
Asel issued the shed-removal order in May 2017 and Reynolds appealed that as well, but he was denied in July 2018 and the Missouri Supreme Court declined to take up the case. Between July appeals ruling and Reynolds jailing, Asel held three hearings in the case.
During a Sept. 17 hearing, Reynolds testified he published legal notices and contacted six contractors to take the building down, but only received only one bid. He said the building sits near a 250-foot drop and not many are interested in doing the work.
At an Oct. 15 hearing, Reynolds told the court he applied for a home equity loan to secure the funds, but was denied because of his credit standing. He told Asel he owed mortgage payments of $1,100 per month, a claim that was found to be false at a later hearing hearing.
“Instead of throwing himself at the mercy of the circuit court for his blatant misrepresentations to the circuit court, Reynolds first criticized the scope of the building removal ruling in the Injunction Judgment via a purported ‘motion to correct’ the injunction judgment…,” the panel wrote.
Reynolds, however, says he misunderstood what was being asked and he and his attorney worked to correct the record immediately following the hearing.
“It’s ridiculous,” Reynolds said Tuesday. “Just because I own my house doesn't mean my house is liquid. Just because I own my home doesn't necessarily mean that I can get approved for a home loan on it. I had a banker tell me at the time I had no credit score and no one would approve me with no credit score."
The parties met again on Dec. 3 and his attorney argued Reynolds tried to find a contractor, published a public notice and even listed his home for sale, but would need more time. Asel, however, disagreed based on the alleged prior false testimony, and held Reynolds in contempt.
Much of the panel’s decision Tuesday weighed on that Asel allegedly gave Reynolds several chances to “purge” himself of contempt.
"Simply put, it is no coincidence that the circuit court found Reynolds to be utterly lacking in credibility and candor with the circuit court on the topic of his financial ability to purge contempt and the evidence before the circuit court supported the circuit court’s conclusion that Reynolds 'continues to willfully and contumaciously fail and refuse to comply with the terms of [the Injunction Judgment],'” Pfeiffer wrote.
Reynolds disputes that the less than five months between the earlier appeals decision and the December contempt ruling was allowing for ample time to have the work completed.
“They gave me 60 days after the decision and said you have got to knock this thing down about a building that sits 25 foot off of a cliff,” Reynolds said. “They are saying you’ve just got to do this and didn’t give me slightly enough time to try and figure something out.”
Reynolds began collecting used oil from local restaurants a decade ago. In the summer of 2013, he built the shed on his property to recycle the oil for use as fuel.
During construction, builders expressed concerns about a nearby power line and Reynolds contacted Boone Electric to see about having it relocated. Boone Electric told him he needed a building permit, which he sought and the county granted.
Four days later, the county sent a letter stating the garage was too close to the road by about four-and-one-half feet and a variance was needed. Reynolds did not apply for the variance until 2015 and was denied. Thereafter, the county demanded he bring his property into compliance.